The Pregnant Palate Drinks Chile

Last Wednesday night I participated in an online tasting hosted by Wines of Chile. The virtual tasting featured 8 wines, all red blends, and over a time period of two hours, with the help of streaming video and Master Sommelier, Fred Dexheimer, approximately 50 wine bloggers tasted these wines while interacting with the 8 winemakers. The red blend theme was a great choice to showcase the diversity and potential of Chile. Each wine was distinctly different, and the blends were each unique. Yet each wine also tasted distinctly Chilean. That is what I took away from this tasting. So often I taste wines that seem one-dimensional or factory-made. Though I may not love every wine we tasted over the evening, I appreciate the fact that each wine tasted authentic to its sense of place, respecting the grape and the terroir from which it came. Though I was unable to taste with the recommended food pairings (stuck in an office, no kitchen), there were some definite wines that I think were meant for the dining table, and though there was no group tasting with me, I had a few colleagues taste through the wines beforehand for some added feedback to share.

Though hard to pick a favorite, I especially enjoyed the Estampa Gold Assebmlage and the Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol. And of course, the Maquis Lien was an excellent value. And…a fair warning on my pregnant palate: everything seems to taste more acidic and bitter, meaning these two aspects in wine can be a bit overpowering, particularly with reds, so take that into consideration while reading these reviews! 

Wine 1: Valdivieso Eclat 2005 Maule Valley (56% Carignan, 24% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah) $27
To be honest, I am rarely a fan of straight Carignan, and blends are a mixed bag for me. But this one was quite pleasing. It definitely struck me as more old-world in style. One colleague noted leather and black cherry notes. I found great red berry fruit and a touch of tobacco (also noted by another taster). The consensus here – light in body, full in flavor, great acidity and a grip in the palate. This was one of the wines I found would be a great match for food.

Wine 2: DeMartino Single Vineyard Old Bush Vines "Las Cruces" 2006 (66% Malbec, 34% Carmenere) $45
This is what I call a 'Chile meets Argentina' blend, and it is from the Cachapoal Valley, which lies in the northern area of the Rapel Valley, just north of Colchagua. Herbs and chocolate were the descriptions I got from my colleagues. One found it a bit sour. I noted a blend spice, berry and herbalness, plus a touch of licorice. Though it was a touch acidic for me, I noticed that it opened up in the glass with some time. The tannins leaned towards green (perhaps the sour note the other taster perceived) but were definitely more noticeable when first poured. As the fruit emerged in the glass, the tannins seemed better integrated.

Wine 3: Estampa Gold Assemblage Carmenere 2008 (57% Carmenere, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 8% Petit Verdot) $22
Not only did I like saying this wine, I was impressed by the taste, too. I'm a general fan of Carmenere – I like it's softness and it's blend of ripe fruit and smoky, meaty flavors. In this wine the Carmenere shows through, with soft ripe fruit undertones, a meaty character and some great acid. The other Cabernet grapes give this a bit of tightness, suggesting it may be too young right now. Though the tannins are soft, this wine would benefit with decanting or even a few years of bottle age. If you're a fan of Carmenere, this is a wine to try… unfortunately I could not find who imports this wine or if it is available in the US yet!

Wine 4: Montes Limited Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Carmenere 2008 (70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Carmenere) $15
It is a blend true to itself as I get many more Cabernet Sauvignon characteristics than Carmenere. Eucalyptus comes through, red and black fruits and, as many other tasters noted, a touch of barnyard (but not in a Bret way, more of a greenish Cabernet undertone way). Tannins are a bit green, but the wine is straightforward in a way that is pleasing. Good value for a good wine. Montes is a classic winery that typically focuses on single varietal wines, but I enjoyed the blend.

Wine 5: Maquis Lien 2006 (42% Syrah, 30% Carmenere, 12% Cabernet Franc, 9% Petit Verdot, 7% Malbec) $19
I've loved Maquis Lien since I first tried it when I visited Chile in 2006. Coincidentally, I was there when the grapes for this wine were being picked! Maquis is a family estate that makes just one one wine with a very cool label. This vintage is not as "jammy" as the 2001 I tried back in 2006. It is much more floral, with lots of red and black fruits. Spicy and dry, with gripping tannins. It is quite delicious, but a wine I would love to pair with some grilled meat and other foods. Stay tuned because we will have a deal on this wine this week!

Wine 6: Hacienda Araucano Clos de Lolol 2008 (31% Syrah, 29% Cabernet Franc, 23% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Carmenere) $23
Also impressed with this wine. Dense black fruit and a spicy long finish sums up the profile, but also in the nose mint jumped out at me. Another colleague noted menthol, but mint was stronger for me. Definitely herbal though, backed by ripe fruit. The palate had good acidity, firm, but tangy tannins and a really lovely finish.

Wine 7: Emiliana Coyam 2007 (38% Syrah, 21% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Carmenere, 17% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Mourvedre) $29
This wine is a favorite of one of our IT guys. I'd not had it yet, but was immediately taken in with the nose, which offered chocolate and licorice notes, dark fruits and a touch of spice. Also a hint of oak here. The palate was smooth and ripe, with all components well integrated. Good, complex flavors here that I definitely enjoyed.

Wine 8: Casas del Bosque Gran Estate Selection Private Reserve 2007 (61% Syrah, 26% Merlot, 13% Pinot Noir) $50
First, I'll express my disappointment with the weight of the bottle. It had to be at least twice as heavy as all the other bottles. What is it about a higher price tag that makes wineries decide to use heavier bottles? There is no need and it's not environmentally friendly. I find this practice prevalent in South America and I wish people made more of a stink about it.
Onto the wine – this was something a little different with Pinot Noir in the mix. This wine is from Casablanca Valley, which has a cooler climate ideal for Pinot Noir. Sadly, my palate was shot by the time I got to this wine, so I had to just enjoy the nose and use my co-worker's thoughts on the palate. The aromas were full of black cherry and chocolate, with a touch of herbs and licorice. The palate was "smooth" as I was told, easily coating the mouth and very balanced. Round and rich, this wine had layers of fruit and spice, and a nice finish to boot.

Finally, a few tidbits on Chile:
- Chile has a unique climate, perfect for grape-growing. With the Andes to the east, the Pacific to the west, dessert up north and ice fields in the south, the country is isolated. Probably why it remains phylloxera free and has little problems with vine disease at all.
- Chile's wine industry has really come into its own the past 10 years. Lots of investment, both locally and from outsiders, has brought the wine trade to new levels. Great values and solid collectibles are produced, bringing Chile to the forefront of the international wine world.
- Carmenere is the country's signature grape, but has only become so in the past 15 years. In the mid-1990s, DNA testing in the vineyards showed that many vines though to be Merlot were, in fact, Carmenere. Though similar to Merlot, Carmenere is very distinct, with rich and ripe fruits, soft tannins and a smoky, meaty characteristic that is prevalent in the aromatics. The warm climate of Maipo and the Rapel Valleys are ideal for this grape.
- Sauvignon Blanc has become a trademark for Chile, with great values coming from the Casablanca Valley. Known for their crisp acidity, citrus and vegetal like aromas and flavors, it's a perfect wine for warm weather or when munching on shellfish.